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Small but Sweet

December 15, 2012
The women sing at the opening program several weeks ago.

The women sing at the opening program several weeks ago.

The literacy class started at the prison a few weeks ago and today was my first chance to observe.  Class meets Monday, Thursday, and Saturday but, because of my own school, I can only go on Saturday.  I’d been warned they’d missed a few classes so even though I was exhausted from my own week I called George and we drove out to the facility to make sure everything was on track.

We got a late start because ICRC came to distribute mats, blankets, and toothbrushes but everyone was smiles and handshakes as they clutched their books and lined up on the benches.  Classes are held in a large, three-sided, outdoor room with concrete benches around the edges.  The Superintendent talked to me about getting proper school benches made and Mark, one of the corrections officers and today’s teacher, reminded me that the chalkboard is too slippery and needs to be stripped.

They’ve been working on their ABCs and today’s lesson called for them to practice it on the board.  Mark called them up two at a time to write it from A to Z.  A small man with eager eyes and a steady hand was first.  He took his time then turned to us for approval.  “Give the pape a big hand clap!” Mark said as Junior grinned and took his seat.  I remembered him from the first day when I came and gave everyone the pretest.  He, like the majority of them, had never attended formal school and he was overflowing with excitement to begin.

Even the inmates who had been to school, some of them going as far as 12th grade, were excited.  They whispered quietly while others wrote on the board, pointing at their workbooks seriously and helping their classmates.  When the ABCs had been written and corrections had been made Mark called two of the advanced students up to read from Sonnie’s Story.  An ongoing drama about early marriage, it follows the story of Sonnie, a 16 year-old girl who is asked to become the fourth wife of her community’s 65 year-old chief.  They sang several rounds of a raucous ABC song that sounded more like a gospel hymn than education and it was time for numeracy.  They practiced counting and using the numbers from 1 to 9 and, after three hours, we called it a day.

Mark called me up to make an impromptu speech (after nineteen months I’ve gotten used to this) and I thanked them for their hard work.  Then six of them swarmed me to tell me they needed glasses.  When I’d visited a few weeks ago to bring the workbooks someone had run out and pressed a note into my hand: “To: Sis RB, From: Cell #9.”  It thanked me for bringing them the classes but lamented that they had difficulty reading the materials because of their eye problems.  I told them I’d gotten the letter and I would try to help, but health isn’t my area.  I’m not sure they were getting me (but after nineteen months I’ve gotten used to that too).

My pressing concern right now is getting a shelf made.  US AID has agreed to give us some books to set up a small reading room for those who are slightly more advanced and to encourage those just beginning.  We have the space and an inmate who could serve as librarian; we just need something to put the books on.  Oh, it’s always the minor details!

Mark made me promise to come back next week and George dropped me in town.  I stopped in the market to get some pineapple and ice bottles, a brilliant combination with Kate’s new cooler.

Progress is small but, really, it’s sweet.

The path is made by walking.

~African Proverb

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